A group of tourists arrive in Burkittsville, Maryland after seeing The Blair Witch Project (1999) to explore the mythology and phenomenon, only to come face to face with their own neuroses and possibly the witch herself.
Stephen Barker Turner,
Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend... The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two day hike to find the Blair Witch, and never came back. One year later, the students film and video were found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project. Written by
Kevin Overstreet <GrndZero23@aol.com>
The real town of Burkittsville where the film is set found itself awash with fans. The town sign was stolen and desecrations in the graveyard made the mayor instigate extra police protection. The local cinema decided not to screen the film. See more »
When they first try to cross the log, with the camera, to the cemetery, we hear Heather talking as she crosses the log. But her mouth never moves. See more »
This film is not a feature film. For a start, it is not feature length, also, it is not shot on film. More importantly, it does not have what feature films have these days: star actors, special effects, exotic locations, explosions. Instead, seeing B.W.P. is seeing something else that a cinema can be: a place where people can share an intimate experience created by a few people on a tight budget. I would be glad of its success if only for that reason.
The first section of the film appears at first to be amateurish and slow. In fact, it is very deft, and very efficient at what it does. It tells the audience everything it needs to know about the characters and situation, and nothing more. Also, it gets the audience into the habit of viewing the film's format: alternating between black and white (very grainy and poorly focussed) film, and the washed out colours of shaky pixilated video. The film makers managed to set up a rationale for why the film is so cheaply made. Three people hike into the woods for a few days to shoot a documentary, with borrowed equipment, and are in the habit of videoing everything for the hell of it. They cannot carry tripods, steadicams, dollies, large lighting rigs, or the like, so everything we see is lit either by raw daylight, or by a single light fixed to the camera, which illuminates just what is within a few feet of the lens. The film creates its own excuse to be cheap. This is intelligent.
The acting and script are both excellent. The well-cast actors are presumably playing pretty-much themselves, and are convincingly naturalistic, and neither too likeable or too dislikeable. The slow route into hysteria is well documented. Rather than simply having a character say "We're lost!", we see many scenes which show the trio getting more and more hopelessly lost, and more annoyed with each other for this. By the time they are thoroughly lost, the audience shares the despair.
My friend and I, after seeing it, both felt a little sick. I put this down to my having been tense for a hour, he put it down more to motion sickness. The jerky, badly-framed camerawork is hard on the eye and stomach, but I applaud the director for its uncompromising use. Similarly, no compromise is made with the dialogue. Some of it is very quiet and must be listened for, some is technical jargon, which is left realisticly unexplained.
One of the great strengths and weaknesses of the film is the editing. It is good in that it does much to heighten the tension, with many key moments lasting just a little too long for comfort. Each time the characters find something nasty, the viewer is made to want the editor to cut soon to the next scene, and the fact that he doesn't adds to the sense of being trapped, as the characters are. The problem with this, though, is that one is left wondering about the motives of the fictional editor. In truth, of course, the film is edited to create these effects, and to entertain, but the film's rationale is that these are the rushes of a documentary put together posthumously by someone other than the film's original creator. Why, then, would an editor piecing together such footage, edit for dramatic effect rather than for clarity? Why would he keep cutting back and forth from the video footage to the film footage, when neither shows any more information than the other?
The film is stark. After one simple caption at the start, all that follows is the "rushes". I wonder if the film might not have been improved with an introductory section which documented how the rushes were found and edited. A programme was made for television which did this. Perhaps a portion of this might have been added to the film, making it more complete, and more believable (and proper feature length).
While I applaud the fact that young original film-makers have managed to create a mainstream hit out of a simple idea, well-handled. I dread the possible avalanche of inferior copies which may come.
Most horror films these days are created not for the audience, but for the makers. The departments of special effects, make-up, model-making, animation and so forth all try hard to show potential future employers what they can do. The result is that nothing is left for the audience to do, since everything can be seen and heard, and the viewer's imagination can be switched off. Today, it is possible to see pigs fly on the screen, and so film-makers show off and show us a formation of Tamworths, which is something which will look impressive in the trailer. To show us less is to make our minds fill in the gaps. This way, we create our own terrors, perfectly fitted to ourselves. The ghastly face I see in my head, is the ghastly head which I find scary. The ghastly face I am shown may be one I can cope with quite easily. If I see a believable character screaming in hysterical fear at something I cannot see, my own brain creates demons for my night's dreams, demons far more mighty than anything CGI graphics or a latex mask could portray.
This film will stay in your thoughts for some while.
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